The Great Purge of 2019

Applying the KonMari Approach to Home and Head

First of all, I had entirely different plans for today but the last couple posts really inspired me. This is exactly what I hoped would happen with this blog; I’m over the moon. Organizational stuff can wait until tomorrow.

As Mackenzie pointed out in #bekind, the start of a new calendar year is a good, symbolic time to reflect. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting these last couple weeks. I’ve realized I have a habit of holding on to things: objects I don’t use, clothes I don’t wear, habits and thoughts that hinder more than they help. Going into 2019, I need to learn to let go.

What I did with my winter vacation

To that end, I’ve Marie Kondo-ed my home, since that’s a thing we’re all doing this year, and have been thinking about the habits I’d like to leave behind. I won’t bore you with my actual New Year’s resolutions, which are the usual ‘drink more water, stop buying plants that are too big for your house, and for the love of God stop letting your mail pile up by the front door, that nice basket isn’t fooling anyone’.  Instead, I want to tell you about my academic resolutions for 2019. If only to help keep me accountable.

But to tell you that story, I first need to tell you this story:

In late 2018, I nearly quit the PhD.

Listen, I know we all think about quitting all the time. So when I say I came close to quitting, I don’t mean the conversations we have with ourselves and our friends about quitting. You know, where you say you’d be so much happier doing something else, and then you daydream about opening a tea shop or bakery or a business where you run other people’s errands every week (side note: I would legitimately love to get paid to grocery shop, it sounds wonderful). I don’t even mean ‘close to quitting’ like the other time I seriously considered leaving the program.

I mean I started looking for jobs. And met with the chair of my department to discuss leaving the program. I mean that, when I met with the chair, I was 90% out the door. The 10% keeping me was pride (there’s a lot of shame associated with quitting a PhD), financial insecurity, and the fact that I hate not being able to do something everyone else can do (so, um, pride again). But it felt like that 10% was dwindling. After all, I could always get a job in retail or as an archaeology field tech (my pre-grad school jobs). And the deep hopelessness I felt was beginning to outweigh any shame about quitting.  

But I’m still here.

Never has a sign given me so much perspective. Also, that marathon? I had to bolt across it to get to the conference center. It’s fine. A cop told me to.

What changed?
A number of things, really. First, my meeting with the chair went really well; I felt heard and not just blamed. Then in November, I attended the Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting in Indianapolis, and participated in their On To The Future Program (OTF). [Side note: I’ll tell you more about OTF later, I need a whole post to sing their praises.] GSA and OTF introduced me to a host of fantastic people and showed me that those three little letters—PhD—could open more doors that I thought. Then in December, I heard the following from several trusted people: we like to think we’re all running the same race, but we’re not. We like to think it’s a meritocracy, but it’s not; we’re each running our own race. Initially, this made me feel better about quitting. Now it’s helping me stay.

 Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I took an actual break. I went home for Christmas for the first time in three years. I did or delegated what I could before I left and, thanks to some argument between my phone and school email, didn’t check my email for a week and a half. I slept and swam and drank. I wrote a little, and spent almost the entire time laughing. I only thought once or twice about the trials waiting for me in the Midwest.
I felt renewed.

So here I am in January 2019. I haven’t quit, I’m back in the Midwest, and the semester is about to start. I’ve KonMari-ed my house, and now it’s time to KonMari my brain, too.   

My 2019 academic resolutions are all about doing away with what I don’t need and holding on to things that bring me… well maybe not joy exactly, but hopefully a lot less stress. They’re also my pathway to my big goal of 2019: decoupling my sense of self from my academic progress.

Resolution 1: Take care of myself first.

In 2019, I am going to care for myself as a means of remaining myself. I’ll explain.

I have a habit of getting lost in whatever I’m focused on. I literally forget about eating until I feel sick and realize it’s been 10 hours since my last meal. Like I said, I’m intense. Unfortunately, this is not the only negative consequence of my intensity. In the past several years, my sense of self has become wrapped up in my performance as a student and researcher; my academic performance has been, in my mind, my defining characteristic. Spoiler alert—it’s definitely not.

That paragraph reminded me I hadn’t eaten. Granola bar. Fixed it.

When I say ‘take care of myself’, I don’t just mean taking time off or getting a massage (though I intend to do both). I mean I will work on enforcing reasonable boundaries with other people and with myself. I am going to (try to) say no and not overload myself with tasks and expectations.

I am also going to do things that make me feel fulfilled. Things like: look nice when I leave the house, meet a friend for drinks or lunch, and not feel guilty about a class my committee does not think is worth my time.

Resolution 2: Hold up your end of the bargain and don’t worry about the rest.

There are two parts to this resolution:

  1. Do the thing. Just get it done and try not to worry about how good it is or isn’t. Improvements can be made later on.
  2. Try not to worry about other people. Just do your part of the task, and try not to stress beyond that. Someone else’s thoughts are their business and not yours.

As you probably gleaned from Resolution 1, I’m intense. I care about everything all the time. I really like this about myself, and it’s often contributes to my success. However, I’m also my harshest critic. That combination has led to some real problems during my PhD. Namely, crippling anxiety about my work not being good enough and people realizing I am, in fact, not good enough. I then freeze up and procrastinate until I only have time to throw something together and then it’s truly not good because I didn’t give myself enough time. It’s… not great.
In 2019, I’m going to work on doing things without worrying about it being ‘good enough’.
To quote one of my grad buddies, the aim of 2019 is: Job Done.

Resolution 3: Keep an eye on the small things

We all have small things that distract us or contribute to feeling—at least in my case—both bored and overwhelmed. A few of the things I’ll be trying to do this year are:

He’s a pretty great lunch companion
  • Putting my phone down. I really spend too much time staring at the screen. Going to try to put it away while I’m at work, on the bus, and walking home/to campus in the morning.
  • Walking to campus. I really enjoy the morning walk, it such a nice start to the day.
  • Packing a decent lunch most days. Or maybe coming home for lunch… How decadent!

Resolution 4: Don’t let anybody harsh my mellow.

I’m going into 2019 feeling calm, capable, and clear about who I am—first as a person, and second as a geoscientist/graduate student. I am going to work hard to not let anyone screw that up. Which is as close as I’m going to get to Marie Kondo’s version of sparking joy.

Yours in LadyGeoscience,

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